Against the background of what has been happening in recent weeks regarding the war against corruption, I am compelled to break my self-imposed censorship on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under the chairmanship of Mr Ibrahim Magu. People close to me, and those in a few groups with whom I share online discussions, know why I don’t write on EFCC or Magu but I want to make the reason public today before I delve into the beef of my intervention.
Sometimes in 2008, my late boss, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua invited me to his office and asked me to sit down. Anytime such happened, it was always when he had something important to discuss but on that day, I could also sense some form of irritation. The moment I sat down, he handed me some papers which he asked me to go through. They were opinion pieces written with different names all of which were against the government with some ridiculing the person of Yar’Adua. I can remember vividly that the title of the one on top was “How Turai is ruling Nigeria”.
I was still browsing through the materials when the president said, “those articles were found on the computer of one Ibrahim Magu, the henchman of your friend at EFCC” (referring to the then chairman, Mr Nuhu Ribadu). At that point, I understood his anger because I never hid my support for Ribadu even though my main concern at the time was the damage the EFCC issue was doing to the image of the president and the administration, since my job had to do with perception management.
While I had no way of verifying that the materials, evidently handed to the late president by someone, were indeed from Magu’s computer, it fitted perfectly with the EFCC modus operandi at the time. I also didn’t follow up to ascertain what happened to Magu thereafter. But the moment his name came up in 2015 as acting chairman of EFCC, I remembered that particular encounter. And for that reason, I have cleverly avoided meeting Magu despite solicitations from his end while I resolved never to write about EFCC because of that bias.
However, given recent controversies, I owe Magu a word even when what I will say may have already been said by both Abimbola Adelakun, in her13th April piece, “EFCC can do with less noise” and Simon Kolawole, in his two days later, titled “Corruption not fighting back yet”. But I will preface my advice with something I also know.
When, following his rejection by the Senate I told a friend that it served Magu right, he asked whether the DSS report was true. “I think the DSS report is false” I replied so he asked, “Why then do you say it serves him right?”
I explained to my friend that what the DSS did to Magu was what EFCC has been doing to so many Nigerians whose reputations they have damaged in the media, sometimes without any basis. Even common preliminary investigations that could have yielded basic information are never conducted before cameramen are deployed to cover what may turn out to be no crime after which EFCC would now be looking for evidence to justify such irresponsibility. And the moment petitions, especially against opponents of the current administration, reach Magu, it won’t take more than a few minutes for it to be splashed in the media.
Given this position, my friend now asked, “But you said the DSS report on Magu is wrong” to which I also replied in the affirmative. That was because, early in the life of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, I stumbled on a conversation in which some powerful people were discussing the issue of Magu’s accommodation. Worried that somebody holding such a sensitive position as EFCC chairman was staying in Karu, a densely populated suburb at the outskirt of Abuja, a decision was taken that accommodation be found for Magu in town and the amount mentioned that day was N40 million as rent for two years.
Two things became clear from that. One, the idea to move out of his Karu residence was not that of Magu, it was that of other people in government who felt the acting EFCC chairman should stay in a more secure environment. Two, Magu was not the person who determined the location of the apartment or the rent. Now, since the central plank of the DSS report was on the accommodation issue, I don’t see how that questions Magu’s integrity nor do I believe he should be considered guilty on the basis of his association with anybody. That will not be fair.
Therefore, I have long concluded that Magu’s integrity is unassailable on the basis of the DSS letter. But there are issues arising from his rejection by the Senate that have to be cleared. One, it is obvious that Magu was/is a victim of the rivalry and power struggle within the Buhari administration that is now sharply divided into different camps. While such may not be uncommon in any presidency, I have never seen a situation like this where heads of critical security agencies would be squabbling in the market square. President Buhari should put his house in order not only for his own sake but also in the national interest.
Two, a problem has been created with the manner Magu’s confirmation hearing played out at the Senate. The DSS is a department in the presidency and the Senate represents a critical arm of government. If those two institutions put it on public record, as they have done, that Magu lacks integrity, it is a problem, regardless of whether or not the report on which the conclusion was reached lacks credibility. The point nobody should miss is that a simple Google of EFCC or the name Ibrahim Magu by a researcher anywhere in the world would bring up both the DSS report and the Senate conclusion.
The problem is compounded by the disposition of the presidency. Since the EFCC was established by an Act of the National Assembly, I fail to understand the basis for the self-serving argument that the president can just appoint anybody without Senate confirmation as prescribed in the EFCC Act. If President Buhari wants Magu confirmed, all that he needs to do is dialogue with the leadership of the Senate while at the same time telling the DSS to back off.
However, if Magu is to succeed on his job, he must also change his ways. Winning cases in the media and losing in court is a serious indictment no matter how much the EFCC blackmails the judiciary. The “Ogbologbo” lawyer suggested by President Olusegun Obasanjo will also need “Ogbologbo” case files for diligent prosecution in court because those involved in corruption have the resources to buy their ways out of trouble. Magu should also ask his minders to cut out the politics. All over Abuja, there are posters of him with the inscription “Who is afraid of Magu?” The question arising from that is: What position is Magu campaigning for?
I want to reserve my comments on how Nigeria has suddenly become “treasure island” where huge sums of money that have no owners are now being found almost on a daily basis. I will also keep the powder dry on the controversial N13 billion (in local and foreign currencies) belonging to the National Intelligent Agency (NIA). While the suspended NIA Director General, Ambassador Ayo Oke ought to have fallen on his own sword the moment he bungled what ordinarily should be a simple covert operation (moving cash), I also believe the EFCC should have been discrete in its operations given the important national security projects involved.
What I find most reprehensible is the attempt to drag in the name of President Goodluck Jonathan to score cheap political point. I have it on good authority that President Jonathan indeed approved the projects and directed the release of the 289 million Dollars to the NIA in February 2015 but those claiming that President Muhammadu Buhari is not aware of the money (including the balance of more than 30 million Dollars that is still in NIA custody) and the projects involved don’t know what they are talking about. I am sure the committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who has had to carry so much responsibilities lately, will clear all the doubts on the issue that is more about security lapse than corruption. But there is already a problem. If the N13 billion is confirmed as legitimate money by the NIA which was foolishly handled, the credibility of the Osinbajo report will be doubted by an unwary public that the EFCC has already prompted into wrong conclusions.
Meanwhile, I am still of the strong opinion that President Buhari should work to get Magu confirmed as the EFCC chairman. While he is not indispensable, I am quite aware that if Magu is replaced through the current acrimonious process, it is the anti-corruption efforts of the current administration that will suffer the most damage, no matter who they bring in as replacement. Besides, Magu’s record of service actually shows him as a very courageous and honest police investigator. So, warts and all, we need men like him in the public arena and he is most fitting for the EFCC job if only he can cut out his exuberance.
Investigation of crimes takes time, painstaking efforts and a coherent strategy that is founded on due process of law. But the EFCC obviously prefers the dramatics of media sensationalism and when they fail in court, there is a blackmail line to fall back on: “corruption is fighting back”. Just two days ago, the commission quietly withdrew an application seeking to stop the former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, from having access to her bank account. Yet, EFCC had for weeks made song and dance about that alleged corruption case.
The sum total of the foregoing is that a Gotcha approach to fighting corruption can only provide momentary entertainment. That is not what Nigeria needs given how the malaise has almost destroyed both the moral fabric of our society and the economy. What we need is a thorough, methodical and strategic war against corruption. It is not too late for Magu to change course.
By This Time Tomorrow
Exactly two years ago, I promised to write a book on the then just concluded presidential election where, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, an incumbent president was defeated. I am delighted to announce that the book is ready and will be presented tomorrow morning in Lagos after which it will be on sale nationwide. While chair of the occasion remains former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the book will be presented by former Cross River State Governor, Mr Donald Duke.
The price is N5,000 for a copy of the paperback edition and N8,000 for the hardback edition while details of the bookshops and all other information about the book are available on olusegunadeniyi.com. The online edition will also be available on Amazon Kindle; iBook; Nook; Kobo for $9.99 and on okadabooks for N2,000. The URL links to these editions will be made available by midnight today. I appreciate all the interest from my readers.
NOTE: I woke up this morning to realise that the book is already up for sale at Amazon UK and people have started buying online. The idea was for it to start selling by tomorrow morning but I lost control over that. Nevertheless, the ‘real’ book will not be released for sales nationwide until tomorrow.